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Jerusalem Post: "Barak allows Hebron settlers to install glass windows"

"It proves that there is no intention to evict them," said Hagit Ofran, who heads Peace Now's Settlement Watch.

Feb. 3, 2008

by Tovah Lazaroff and Yaakov Katz

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday gave Hebron settlers permission to install glass window panes in a disputed four story building in Hebron while they fight a legal battle to stave off eviction orders.

The windows have been covered with heavy plastic since March, when settlers moved into the structure they call Beit Hashalom in an area of the city populated by Palestinians that links the settlement of Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Defense officials said Barak gave the approval for the renovations following a request from Shas chairman Eli Yishai.

"This was done on humanitarian grounds and due to the cold weather," an official said. "This will not have an effect on the process that is taking place with the Civil Administration concerning the legal status of the settlers' purchase of the building."

Around 20 families live there and they have been unable to make basic repairs such as hooking the structure up to utilities and fixing the roof because of the building's unresolved legal status.

Peace Now protested Barak's decision on the windows.

"It proves that there is no intention to evict them," said Hagit Ofran, who heads Peace Now's Settlement Watch.

Hebron Jewish community spokesman David Wilder said that while the windows were a "good start, it's not enough. How can people live in a building when there is no electricity. We are still running the building on a generator."

The settlers say they purchased the structure for $700,000 from a Palestinian intermediary, Abdelkader Shawar, who acted on behalf of the previous owner, Faez Rajbi. The Palestinians have argued the sale was not completed and that the building belongs to them.

The state recently declared that the purchase documents were forged and that Shawar was the last person to legally possess the building. But no final determination has been made.

Last month the High Court of Justice delayed its ruling on the building's evacuation until April to allow a lower court to rule on ownership.

Wilder called on the government to recognize the sale's validity and the right of Jews to live in the city.

"When they say we move in without paying, it's illegal, when we pay, they say you cannot do it anyhow. It is time the government stopped playing games," Wilder said.